How to do Self-enquiry

Instructions from an American jnani.

By Robert Adams

Adams delivered this talk in satsang on August 26, 1990. It was recorded and transcribed by his students with his permission. We haven’t edited the text.

Robert: Good evening. It’s good to see you again, whoever is here again? Please do not be shocked at some of the things I may say. I am not a teacher, nor am I a lecturer, nor am I a minister. I am merely a looking glass so that you can see your own reflection. What you think of yourself you see in me. I may say certain things you’re not used to. Bear with me. You should not accept anything I say nor should you believe anything I say, until you’re able to prove it to yourself.

I simply give my confession, that I am not the body, nor the mind, nor the phenomenal world, that I am pure intelligence, absolute reality, sat-chit-ananda, divine mind, unborn, emptiness. When I use the words “I am,” I am not referring to Robert. I am referring to “I am that I am,” omnipresence, the infinite.

I get lots of phone calls from people asking me all kinds of questions. One question that most people keep asking again and again is, “What can I do to resolve my problems? Can you give me an affirmation, a mantra, a meditation, a breathing exercise, something I can use?” These things have their place, but they will not awaken you to your true self. In all of the higher scriptures it is written that the path of Advaita Vedanta or Jnana Marga is only for mature souls.

Now what does that mean? It is for those who in a previous lifetime have already practiced sadhanas, breathing exercises, yoga techniques, etc., and now they’re ready to awaken through this type of teaching. And the Buddhist scripture declares that those who want to do yogas, or breathing exercises are the simple minded and ignorant (he chuckles).

Now what do they mean? They don’t mean to insult you but they are referring to those who are attached to the world, those who believe the world is real and who feel the pull of the world. They want to use all kinds of gimmicks to free themselves from their problems but not to be totally free.

Now, what does Jnana Marga teach? We teach simply this:

To do affirmations, mantras, yoga exercises and so forth, will not awaken you. You start from the beginning. You simply admit to yourself that you exist. This is the truth. You do exist, don’t you? So you say to yourself, “I exist. I know that for sure. I exist. I exist. That’s all I know. I’m ignorant of everything else, but I do know that I exist because here I am.” And, as you keep saying this to yourself, “I exist,” you begin to put more space between “I” and “exist.” “I... exist.” Say that to yourselves: “I... exist, “I... exist."

If you’re doing this correctly you’ll soon find that “I” and “exist” are two separate words. In other words you’ll come to the conclusion that you exist as I. You’ll have to ask yourself, ponder, “Who is this I that exists? What is I?” You never answer. It will come to you of its own accord. When you sleep and you awaken you say, “I slept.” When you dream you say, “I had a dream.” And when you’re awake, of course, you say, “I am awake.” But that I is always there. You start to inquire within yourself, “What is this I that exists at all times? It exists when I’m asleep, when I’m awake, when I dream. Who is this I?” And now the inquiry starts. “Where does this I come from? From whence cometh the I?” You ask yourself. The answers are within yourself. And you keep asking yourself over, and over, and over again, “From whence cometh the I? Where does the I come from?” Or, “Who am I?” And you wait a little while, and you repeat the same question, “Where does the I come from?"

While you’re doing that, you follow the I deep, deep within. You keep following the I. You go deeper and deeper into the I. “Where does this I come from? Who is this I?” Whatever answer comes to you is the wrong answer. Do not accept it but do not deny it. You simply put it aside. And you continue with the self-inquiry. “Who am I?” And you wait. And you ask again, “Who am I?” It is not a mantra. Where did the I come from? How did it get there? Who gave it birth? What is the source of the I? You continue to abide in the I.

As you continue this process someday something will happen. To some people it comes like an explosion within, where all your thoughts are wiped away. For you see, I is the first pronoun, and every thought that you have in the world is attached to the I. It is secondary. Think about that. Whatever you have to say about yourself has I in it. Everything in the world is about yourself. I am going to the movies. I am going bowling. I feel like crying. I feel terrible. I feel wonderful. I feel sick. I feel well. There’s always an I, I,

I. What is this I, and what is it all about? Everything is attached to the I. Subsequently, when the I is wiped out, everything else is wiped out and the troubles are over. All thoughts go with the I.

Now there’s no answer to “Who am I?” When you get to the answer there will be emptiness, a void. You will be of the unborn. But it is not a void like you think. It is not emptiness like you think. For want of a better word you can call it godliness, nirvana, sat-chit-ananda, bliss consciousness, absolute reality. It doesn’t matter what name you give it. You will become that, and there will be no explanation. You will just become that, and you will feel a profound peace that you have never felt before. You will feel a bliss that is unqualified. You will try to explain it to yourself and to your friends, but you cannot, for the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. There are no words.

That’s the method you use, self-inquiry. You follow the I-thought to its source. How long does it take? It depends on yourself. How sincere you are, what else you’re doing with your life. If you’re using this like you do everything else... For instance, if you say, “Well today I’m going to practice the I thought, then I’m going to go to a movie, then I’m going to go bowling, then I’m going to watch TV, then tomorrow I’ll do the same thing.” Of course what’s going to happen in a case like that? Very little, but if you put your energy into it, and you practice it every chance you get, and you put this first in your life, you will see amazing results, amazing results. But you have to put it first in your life.

Think right now, what is first in your life? Don’t tell me but just think. What comes first in your life? Can you take it with you when you die? Don’t you see by now that you live in a world of constant change? That the only thing permanent in life is change? All facts change. Only truth is real, and truth is non-personal. You have to find it for yourself. For the sincere devotee or student they will put this first in their life, and then you will start seeing results. But if you’re still worrying and fearing something, and you think other duties come first, then you’ve got to work on yourself.

That’s why, with great compassion, I give you certain things you can do before you get into self-realization. Just before you become self-realized you begin to feel certain things. And those are the four principles I gave you last week. That comes to you automatically. But, as I mentioned last Sunday and Thursday, you have to upon awakening, become aware of these principles. You cannot think of them at your leisure. But you sort of have to coax the mind. You have to coax your mind to think upon the four principles as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.

So you have two things to do. When you open your eyes you can either ask yourself, “Where did the I come from? Who am I that slept last night? Who am I that has just awakened? Who am I that exists now?” or you can think about the four principles. Whatever is convenient for you. But, by all means, if you want self-realization, and you want to become free, and you want to be free from the ocean of samsara, worldliness, and become blissful, then it’s up to you. I can share these things with you but I can’t make you do it. It’s just like I can bring you to the gold mine but you’ve got to do your own digging. What comes first in your life again? Whatever comes first in your life, that’s what you become. In the end you’re going to have to leave your body, your thoughts, your possessions, your loved ones. Everything is going to be left, in the end. So the wise person searches for truth now, and tries to become free now.

So let’s briefly go over the four principles again, for I feel they’re very important. Another thing I do is this: Most ministers, teachers, whatever, philosophers, they always search for new knowledge. They research, research, research, and then they share with their congregations or students something profound, something new every Sunday. And of course, you always forget the previous Sunday and you go into new words. It’s a game of words. You may learn about the astral planes, the causal planes, reincarnation. You may learn about how to become positive in your life, how to attract the right mate, how to attract money, health, and all kinds of stuff. How to channel, how to do this, and it’s very exciting to the ego. What we do here is we try for you to remove your ego so you do not get caught up in the world. That’s the only way to become happy, truly happy, and self-realized. This is why I reiterate, and repeat again and again, the same principle. So it can soak deep into your subconscious mind, and you can become a living embodiment of this truth.

Now what are the four principles? Who can tell me? Who remembers? What’s the first one?

S: Everything emanates from the mind.

R: That’s right, but you had to think. It should be like second nature to you. When it’s second nature to you, then you’re going to find true happiness in your life, and reach your goals. But when you have to think about it first, it means your mind’s impressed with something else. You’ve got other thoughts that you’re thinking about most of the time. The first principle, again, is that everything, and I mean everything, the universe, the world, your body, your fears, your problems, your happiness, everything that you can think about, everything that your senses behold, is a manifestation of your mind.

It’s a mind quality. When you close your eyes it goes away. When you sleep you transcend it. But when you are awake the world exists. The world only exists because your mind exists, and your mind exists because your ego exists.

Therefore when you begin to work on yourself, and you begin to realize that everything comes from your mind, you stop fearing, and you stop worrying, for you realize it’s of the mind. And as you begin to change your mind, transcend your mind, annihilate your mind, bliss, happiness, peace, love, joy, truth, comes all by itself. It is the mind that is your enemy. What is your mind? It is a conglomeration of thoughts about the past and the future. You worry about the past and you worry about the future. That’s all your mind is. It is not your friend, therefore, ignore your mind. Do not believe what it says. Simply watch it, behold it, become the witness to it. But just to realize that everything is an emanation of your mind, that alone sets you free.

And you have to practice self-inquiry, by realizing everything comes out of your mind, asking yourself, “What is my mind? Where did it come from?” And you will realize that I is the mind, I is also the mind. Because you say, “I think,” don’t you see? “I think,” and the mind is thoughts. So we get back to the I again. We always come back to the

I. Subsequently again, if you want to remove your mind you remove the I. You ask yourself again, “If the mind is I then where did I come from? What is the source of this I? Who am I?” You always get back to the I. Everything leads to the same thing, doesn’t it? All the processes we use lead to the same thing, to I.

The First Principle: The whole universe is a projection of my mind. Then you say, “My mind. Who is ‘my’? I’m referring to ‘my’ mind.” And then again you tell yourself, “I am referring. I’m back to I again. I am referring to my mind.” Again you go back to, “Where did this I come from? Who created it? What is its source? Who gave it birth?” And you keep questioning this way, again, and again, and again. And, as I said before, with most people, one day there will be like an explosion, and the I will blow itself to pieces. And you’ll see light, tremendous light. You’ll become light. The light of a thousand suns, but that’s not the answer. You have to go through the light, into emptiness, into nirvana, into absolute reality, which is called Parabrahman, nothingness. That nothingness becomes everything.

Now you go back to the second principle. Who remembers that?

S: The Self is beginning-less, without beginning?

R: Not quite, you’re on the right track, but not quite. Any more volunteers?

S: There is no birth, no existence, no death?

R: You’re on the right track.

S: I am not born? I do not persist, I do not die?

R: Yes. See, if you remember these things it will carry you across the ocean of samsara, into the land of the self-realization of noble wisdom. But you have to think of these things all the time.

The Second Principle is this: You are unborn, you do not persist, and you do not disappear. In other words, you were never born, the life that you’re experiencing does not exist, and you do not die. You have always been. What I am saying is, there is no cause for anything. What is its cause? Of course the Bible will tell you Adam and Eve. That’s a nice story if you like stories. But if you’re talking about reality, it just began out of nothing. What came first, the seed or the tree, the chicken or the egg? You can say to me, “I was born, my mother and father gave me birth.” Well, go all the way back. Who was the first mother and father, just like what came first, the tree or the seed? It’s perplexing.

The best way to explain it (is), take a look at your dreams. How do you create a dream? Does it start with a beginning? As soon as you start dreaming there’s no creation. The dream just starts. Everything is already there. The trees, the sky, the earth, the flowers, the grass, people, insects, birds, flowers, everything just appears. Does it die in the end? You just wake up, and it’s all gone. What we’re doing now is living the mortal dream. We believe in our bodies, in our existence, as it were. We believe the world is real, the mind is real, our experiences are real, and we get involved in them, like we get involved in a movie. You know you’re not the movie. You watch the movie, it ends, and you go home. The more you get involved in the world situations and in yourself, the small self, your body-mind phenomena, the more you get pulled into ignorance.

You have to loosen yourself from this maya and thinking about every day, that you are unborn, you have no personal life, and you do not exist, and you will not disappear, just thinking about these things does something to you. You begin to feel different. You begin to feel alive, but not as a body, as omnipresence. You begin to understand what Moses said when he said, “I am that I am.” You begin to feel free, untarnished. Your past is dissolved because it never existed to begin with. You have no past. There’s no cause. It’s all a manifestation of your mind. As you think about this you become totally free.

Now what’s the third principle?

S: Everything is egoless.

R: Yes. The Third Principle is: The egolessness of all things. You have to have a deep realization, and a deep feeling, that no thing has an ego. No thing has a cause, again. There’s no reason for anything to be. No thing really exists. You are not a sinner. You are not an evil person. Your past is dead, forget it. You’re born again, now, and all is glory and joy. This is what it means to be born again, to realize that you exist now, in this moment. Not a moment ago, and never mind what’s going to happen a moment from now, but you exist in this moment as pure intelligence, unqualified love, absolute reality, unconditioned oneness, that’s you. You live in that reality. And again, that sets you free.

Now what’s the fourth principle? As long as you don’t remember them I’m going to repeat them every week until you get sick.

S: Neti-neti.

R: Yes, but what is the principle?

S: The realization or knowing the truth through the discarding of the non-truth.

R: Yes. The Fourth Principle is: To have a feeling, a deep feeling, a realization, of what self-realization of noble wisdom really means. And, of course, you can’t explain it, so you negate it. In other words you think of what it isn’t. Self-realization is not the world, it’s not the universe, it’s not my body, it’s not anything I can think about. It’s not my mind. Then what is self-realization? Whatever answer comes to you is wrong, for it has no answer. There are no words that can describe it. Forget about your intelligence. Human intelligence sucks, it doesn’t exist. Why? Because it dies with you. We’re talking about something that’s eternal, that has always been, and will always be.

You have to become aware of these principles. I give you these things with great compassion, that you have something to do every day besides watching TV or reading comic books. Think, but not intellectually. Let’s play some music...

(music played)

R: Because of Richard and Jim who are going back to Santa Cruz, I’ll cover something else, which just came to me. After you learn the four principles, and they become a living embodiment within yourself, then you learn about the three vehicles which carry you over the ocean of samsara into the land of self-realization of noble wisdom. That’s why they’re called vehicles. But you can only feel these vehicles when you’ve mastered the previous.

The First Vehicle is this: You have a deep feeling, now remember, this is before self-realization, afterwards it doesn’t matter what you do, you have a deep longing, a deep feeling, to be by yourself. Now in the West they tell you this is antisocial behavior, but you have a feeling... in other words you don’t mentally say to yourself, “I want to be alone,” like Greta Garbo. It’s not a mental game you’re playing. Because of your inquiry, and your feeling and knowing the four principles, you have a feeling to be by yourself, so you are not pulled down by the world, to give you an opportunity to make the four principles and self-inquiry work for you. So you enjoy being alone. You want to be by yourself. You look for times that you can be by yourself so you can work on yourself, and that becomes a total joy for you. It’s like total heaven to be by yourself, not all the time, but most of the time. It’s only when you’re by yourself that you can argue with yourself, and you can tell off your mind, and you can scream a little if you like, and do what ever you have to do to get rid of the ego and the mind. That’s the first vehicle.

The Second Vehicle is: you have a deep feeling, a deep desire, to always be at sat-sang. Now satsang is not just a spiritual meeting, as most of you know. It’s not a gathering of people when they hear a lecture. Who can explain what satsang is? How about you Nerada? What is satsang to you?

S: Well ultimately I suppose it can’t really be put into words, so to realize that I understand what the essence of satsang is, that it can’t be put into words. Satsang is like the embodiment of the teaching. So I think that there’s a growth in satsang that takes place, a growth that does not take place in the words.

R: Okay. That’s a good explanation. Anybody else like to say what satsang is? (S: Abiding in the Self.) Yes, exactly. Being together with people who abide in the Self; the realization that there is one Self, and you are that. So being in satsang is being at the feet of God. That’s what it literally means, sitting at the feet of God. And God is none other than your Self. So you want to be with yourself when you come together with us. And you’re still alone. You’re still by yourself because all the people with you are yourself.

S: Doesn’t it usually involve the presence of a Sage?

R: Yes, but remember, the Sage, the guru and God are yourself. It’s all the same. What I mean by that is I don’t want you to look at me as being a Sage, or being anything at all. When you see me, as I mentioned in the beginning, I am a mirror. You see yourself. And when you see yourself as divinity you will also see everyone else here as divinity. We’re all one. There’s no difference.

The Third Vehicle is: You will have a deep feeling, and a deep desire, to be around people like yourself. In other words, your old relatives, your old friends, your old cronies, that you used to drink with, and get high with, or whatever you did with them, they don’t turn you on anymore. You want to be with spiritual people like yourself. You’re not putting it on. You’re not intellectualizing it. You’re not imagining that you want to do that because I told you to. From your practice you become like that. It’s an inner feeling, a deep inner feeling. Those are the three vehicles.

Now again, because Richard and Jim are leaving I brought along a couple of lessons. Once in a while I give out lessons I wrote years ago.

R: Okay, now we’re going to have some prashad and then we’ll have questions and answers.

S: I have a question for you, about meditation. You said sit and do nothing. My question is, when I do that, thoughts stop, but the world appears. By doing nothing do you mean no world appearing?

R: Let the world appear but do not react to it. Let whatever appears, appear, but just do not give any response. (S: Should you sit with your eyes closed, or open, or does it make any difference.) It doesn’t make any difference. (S: Plus, if you were to try to make the world appear or disappear you would be doing something. Of course if you could do nothing...) (S: You’d be realized.) (S: You’d be there.) (S: That’s why it’s so direct.)

R: Of course the proper action to take when the world appears is to ask, “To whom does the world appear?” But if that doesn’t work for you, just do nothing at all.

S: I’ve also tried, in doing that, I’ve tried the principles you gave. Say if I’m thinking of someone, what I’ve noticed is if everything is egoless, that seems to do away a lot with any kind of judgment I had about others or about myself.

R: Exactly, sure, that’s what it does. (S: It does away with it. Just like (snaps his fingers) that. It’s really nice.) That’s what it’s supposed to do. (S: In an everyday situation it seems like it pays to use that too.) Of course. And the more you think of that the deeper the feeling goes, and the greater the experience. (S: I wasn’t really thinking about it. I just thought maybe to use it as the situation arises.) You can do that. Whatever helps.

S: Well how do you handle this? Let’s say you’re opposing a strong negative force, a very destructive force, people who embody that force. You have to confront it and work against it, knowing that there is no ego in the force?

R: No, you don’t do that at all. You simply ask yourself, “To whom does this force come?” (S: You don’t confront it?) No, you don’t avoid it or confront it. (S: All right, what if we were in danger of losing our lives right now? What would we do?) Whatever you have to do.

(S: What?) Your body knows what to do. (S: That would be confronting it then.) But you have nothing to do with it. Your body will do what it has to do. But it has nothing to do with you. (S: You mean you’ll run or you’ll fight?) (S: It’s more spontaneous than the thinking?)

R: Yes, everything will happen spontaneously. Your body knows what to do. There is a power that takes care of your body. It will know what to do.

S: All right, what if it’s more abstract though. There I used an example of something immediate. Let’s say the current situation in the near east, that you’re going to be called up or something. And that also is a very destructive and terrible force. How would our bodies react to that?

R: Leave that to God, God knows how to take care of the universe. Focus on yourself. Ask yourself, “To whom do these feelings come?” (S: But what if it comes right down to it. What if a telegraph or telephone call comes?) Then you do what you have to do. Your body will know what to do. You will take care of yourself. If you’re a major in the air force you fly a plane. You go wherever you have to go. (S: All the while asking or reminding yourself to whom it comes?) As long as you’re aware that it has nothing to do with you. You are not your body. You are not your mind. You are not the situation. You are free from it.

S: Isn’t it like watching yourself as if you were a character in a play? (R: Yes.) ...or watching yourself on a film. You know if you’ve ever had that experience. Where you know it’s you, but you’re not...

S: Okay, but it’s still confusing to me. Let’s say, to follow this little possibility, I can go away and fly the plane and so forth, and I can say that’s not really me doing it, or I can stay home and say I don’t want to be part of that destruction, and that’s also not me doing it.

R: No, both are wrong. If you have to say, “It’s not me doing it,” then it is you doing it. You don’t say it’s not me doing it. You ask the question, “To whom does it come?” There’s a difference. It keeps the me out of it completely. (S: It’s more obvious than that. It’s more obvious that it’s not you doing it, that it is you doing it.) See, when you say, “It’s not me doing it,” you believe that you are the one, you are the body. (S: All right, let’s strike that part of it from the record. Still it seems to me a choice must be made.) The choice will be made. But you have nothing to do with it. (S: That’s very difficult, very, very difficult.)

S: Will you be guided?

R: Something will take care of you. When you came to this earth everything was predestined. Something is aware of how to take care of you, and what you’re going to go through. But it has nothing to do with you. The secret is not to react. Just do what has to be done. And you will do what has to be done. You can’t help it. If you’re meant to go to fight, no matter how you try to stop yourself, you couldn’t. You’ll go to fight. If you are meant to be a pacifist, you couldn’t fight if you wanted to. If they gave you a million dollars you couldn’t do it because you’re predestined. It’s your karma. (S: So you’re saying if you face a decision, that’s already been predestined also?) Yes. Everything will work out. The secret is not to identify with your body or your mind. And then, if you’re doing it correctly things will change on the outside too.

S: I can accept it theoretically. It’s the same teaching, the same response, the rabbis had, the wise Jews, at the time of the holocaust. Get into the cattle car, off you go to Auschwitz, and the rabbis say, “Well you know it’s God’s will. What difference does it make? It doesn’t matter.” And now that we’ve lived through the holocaust, now we think maybe they should have said something.

R: There’s a difference. You’re right. There’s a difference in knowing the truth, and just letting yourself be walked on. This does not mean you become a rug for somebody to step on you. You become a doormat for no one. You are abiding in the Self. When you abide in the Self everything will be okay. You’re not a coward. You’re not running from anything. You’re abiding in the Self. When you abide in the Self if you have to pick up a sword and fight, you will. If you have to run, you will. But you will do what you have to do. But it has nothing to do with you. It’s different than you think. It’s not like you think.

(S: I can theoretically... it all makes sense. In actual practice is where I get confused.) If it made sense it wouldn’t be the truth. (S: What kind of answer can one expect when you ask who is it for? (R: No answer.) So therefore the action would be non-personal.)

R: Exactly. If there’s an answer, it’s the wrong answer. See, all these years we’ve been dealing with a finite mind, with our own intellectual processes, with our preconceived ideas, with our concepts. But I’m saying we have to transcend those and use a new part of us that we’ve never used before and that’s the Self. So when you abide in the Self everything will be okay. Everything will work out. It has nothing to do with being passive, or being violent, or anything else. It’s a completely new ball game. You’re on God’s team and you’re well taken care of, but it’s different. There are no words to explain it. (S: You have to now go inside to understand it.) Yes, you have a deep understanding, and a deep knowledge, that all is well and everything is unfolding as it should.

S: Robert, then it is imperative that we do have a guide or a Master, isn’t it? People can’t just do this on their own.

R: It depends, very few can. But the majority cannot. (S: Did Ramana have a guru?) No. But he’s one in a billion. (S: So what you’re also saying then is in predestination the soul chooses to be born in a particular time or to a particular life in order to continue with its existence.) That’s part of the appearance. And if you believe in your body, and you believe in your mind, then karma is real, and predestination is real. But if you abide in the Self everything else becomes redundant.

S: Because of your four principles that we... (R: Yes.) ...and if you become realized you can get off the karmic wheel.

S: But in the mean time, on this earthly plane, or this particular plane, one way of describing it is predestination. The answer is there, but if you look at it as a continuum, it’s part of the four principles. Nothing appears in the beginning, no end

R: Yes, exactly. To put it in an easier point of view so you can understand it, if you believe in your body, again, if you believe in your mind, if you believe that you are a body, then everything else exists, karma, God, creation, everything exists. But when the realization comes to you that I am not the body, and I am not the mind, everything disappears. Like the four principles. So that’s why the secret is to practice abiding in the Self. Then everything else will happen by itself. You don’t try to get rid of your karma or get rid of negative situations, because that’s like cutting off a tumor on one arm, and it grows back on the other arm. You go right to the source, the Self. And then everything is resolved.

Copyright © 1990 Robert Adams. Recorded and transcribed for distribution by his students with his permission.

Robert Adams (1928–1997) was a genuinely Self-realized teacher who claimed falsely to have been a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

This page was first published on July 8, 2022, last revised on July 8, 2022, and last republished on July 8, 2022.


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